Major Woodwork Complete!

Today we finished the main cabinet woodwork and it turned out great. We used biscuit joinery to pull it all together and the clean corners really give the project a solid, professional feel. (Check out the first picture to see what I’m talking about.) If you haven’t used biscuit joinery, you haven’t been to the promised land. I don’t have a biscuit joiner, but no matter — I have my grandfather’s classic router and with the right bit, you can get cuts just perfect for a size 20 biscuit.

The large round holes in the cabinet are for fans. With a souped up PC and three monitors, this cabinet is going to run hot. You need fans. Even worse, I’m installing five LED flashers at three watts each. More heat, more fans. Thankfully, I’m installing three Crystal Cooling System CLF Series  (200x200x20) fans to keep things cool. I also have heat sinks for the LEDs. Perfect.

Did I mention that all three fans have purple LEDs installed in them? Well, I simply had to. These 12V fans will also glow purple at night, giving a back glow to the whole cabinet. It will beckon you to play.

I can’t transfer all the electronics until I sand all the corners down and paint the whole cabinet black. Once I finish that, I’ll install the custom artwork. Then the fun stuff begins.

I’ve decided on the theme for the artwork, by the way. Let’s see if you can figure it out. Jodi and I dressed as this famous couple for Halloween back in the early 90’s. It’s also the theme of my family’s favorite pinball. Jodi might say, “A day alone, only that would be death.“ Or I might say, “I would die for her. I would kill for her. Either way, what bliss.” No worries. If you can’t figure it out, you’ll see some great artwork soon.



Cabinet Fabrication (Main Playfield)


Well, we had some fun cutting wood the last week or so. The trickiest part of cutting the cabinet is to ensure that it is properly sized for your LCD screens. You simply cannot go by any plans on the internet or by a standard cabinet. You need to decase your LCD and size the cabinet to fit. We’re talking 1/8th of an inch of accuracy.

I routed out the groove for the LCD to sit at the highest point possible in the playfield. If you don’t, you’ll be forced to put your flipper buttons too far down the sides of the cabinet. This will be uncomfortable and unnatural for players to reach far for the buttons. I was down to a 1/8th of an inch of separation between the buttons and playfield to make it fit. It’s tight. Be sure to buy the thinnest LCD you can get on the internet to really pull this off perfect.

It took three trips before I got the grooves sized right and ready for the LCD. The mantra “measure twice, cut once” is there for a reason. I’ve also found I can squeeze more of the LCD into the sides of the cabinet and hide the bezel. This means I now have to narrow up my cabinet by about 1/2″. That’s OK as I’ll now be within 1/2″ of a true widebody pinball instead of one inch! Perfect!

Here are some pictures of the LCD installed. With everything sized just right, I’m down to final trim cuts before I join the cabinet corners. (I’ll be routing out slots for a biscuit join, by the way. I want a clean looking set of corners.

That’s for another day.

Decasing the LCDs

ImageImageToday, I had to decase two of the three flatscreen monitors. The main playfield (46″) needs to be decased so that it is “bezeless” when installed in the cabinet. What this means is that you will not see any gap between the monitor’s pixels and the interior side of the cabinet. It lends itself well to furthering the realism of the cabinet.

Why decase today? Well, most of my wiring is complete. I’ll continue to write more about the wiring as the days go by. But at this point, I need to be able to start wiring the power connections for the monitors and determine flasher location in the head of the cabinet. I can’t mock those up with cardboard, so now it’s time to build the cabinet.

I can’t finalize the measurements of the cabinet if I don’t know exactly how wide the 46″ LCD panel is. The LCD panel will be embedded in the sides of the cabinet via a routered groove. So here we are, decasing and measuring. I’ll be purchasing some nice plywood today, two 4×8 sheets. Over the next couple weeks, I hope to post pictures of the cabinet fabrication process.

Down near the bottom of the second picture, you can see that I decased the small 15.6″ monitor. This monitor is going to emulate the DMD (Dot Matrix Display). In order to get this monitor to fit with the backglass monitor in the head of the cabinet, I decased it to overlap the exterior of the 32″ backglass monitor. In other words, I’m trying to fit two monitors in the head by only decasing one. We’ll see if it works. If not, I’ll have to decase and modify all three monitors.

No big deal, but I’d like to void the warranty of only two monitors if I have to. 😉

Wiring : Buttons

Well, we’ve hit a major milestone with the project. From an electrical perspective, I had four specific areas I was focused on implementing:

1) button integration into the PC
2) general illumination (lighted buttons, lighted flippers, etc)
3) force feedback for flippers, jet bumpers, etc
4) LED flasher emulation

This week, we’ve implemented functional aspects of 1-3! This post will be focused on #1 – the button integration into the PC.

I have also worked on the configuration of the virtual pinball software to make button illumination intuitive. For example, if you are in a screen to choose a pinball to play – the START button flashes on the cabinet, telling the user to press START to play.

First, Some Pontification and Key Links

For those of you embarking on a similar project, you need to understand this next sentence clearly. The software that drives your virtual pinball and integrates analog to digital is not supported and is not well documented. If you’re not technically astute, such as programming in a scripting language or troubleshooting operating system DLL configurations, this project is not for you.

If you’re still reading and still want to tackle this, I have some great resources and tips for you. Let my personal journey of trying to solve some challenging puzzles be a little easier when it’s your turn.

1) When you’re stuck on configuration, the internet is your friend. There are two forums you must join. One is and the other is The first is focused on the actual pinball emulation software. The second is focused on the slick front end that makes your cabinet easy to use by the non-techie person.

2) There are two projects that are so well documented, that you can use them as good reference points on just about every aspect of working on this project. I keep referring back to these two projects and it’s worth sharing them here:

chriz99’s Big Bang Pin 2008 (This is actually the builder’s second project, so he really gets it right this time around.)

DeeGor’s LEGO Batpin 2010 (This guy did an especially good job in outlining some of the more complicated electronic aspects and has the cleanest wiring set up I’ve ever seen.)

Button integration into the PC!

The virtual pinball and front end software are driven by simple keyboard inputs. This section is about installing physical buttons, like a flipper button, and having it send a signal to the computer to press a key in its place. For example, the virtual pinball software requires a RIGHT SHIFT key entry to activate your right flipper. Here, we install a right flipper button to send a RIGHT SHIFT every time I hit it.

This is the simplest part of this project and was why I chose to tackle it first. Make your life simple and purchase an iPac unit. This unit emulates a keyboard when a circuit is closed on a button. Too many people try to cheap out by ripping a keyboard apart and integrate it with buttons. This is not worth the $20 savings. My goodness – if you’re going to cheap out on a project of this magnitude, don’t bother starting.

Get the i-Pac from Ultimarc in Europe:

Buttons are simple.

#1) Plug the iPac into your PC via USB. (In the pictures, the iPac is the green circuit board with screw connections along both sides.)
#2) Buy a terminal block for your ground. Connect your button grounds all together in a daisy chain where you physically can. Where you can’t, just connect directly from the button’s ground to the terminal block. Connect all grounds to the terminal block. (In the pictures, an example of a terminal block is above my pinky finger.)
#3) Connect the ground terminal block to your iPac’s ground. I repeat, all grounds on all buttons need to be joined together to the iPac ground.
#4) After all the buttons are grounded, wire a single strand from each button to an assigned iPac slot. When your button closes a circuit, it triggers the iPac to signal your computer to enter a specific key. (In the pictures, the START button is shown embedded in cardboard. Black wire is the ground. Yellow is connected to iPac.)
#5) Get the free WinIPac panel designer software and take each button, map it to a keyboard key and voila — you are done.

Refer to the Pinball Electronics 101 PDF for schematics for this simple wiring setup. Link is in upper right corner.

An aside: Some buttons use a microswitch which has three connections, instead of just two. This throws off some folks. Here is a simple tutorial to explain how you want to wire this switch. Wire it so that it is “normally open” (NO) and not use the “normally closed” (NC) function.

A second aside: Some buttons have built in LED or bulb lighting. Don’t worry. We’ll get to that. Leave those connections alone for now. (In the pictures, that’s the red and blue wires on the switch.)

If this is too complicated for you to figure out, then keep in mind that every step from here on out is exponentially more complicated than this. You will be calculating resistor values, sizing fuses, adding up amperage loads. If that isn’t your cup of tea, this project may not be for you.